Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Happiness Project

The Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More FunThe Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

On a whim, I decided to read this book I added to my to-read list way back when I was deep into yearlong challenges and pursuing happiness - if you're new to either topic, maybe check it out. If not, go ahead and give The Happiness Project a pass.

First thoughts: Yup, these are all ways to pursue happiness. I've done quite a few of what Rubin suggests - some "resolutions" I'm still practicing, others didn't work out for me. So I guess seeing that her journey was similar to mine was validating. I did keep waiting for something bad to happen, as per usual when someone undertakes a happiness quest...but Rubin's life is pretty good to her.

Favorite quote: "It isn't goal attainment but the process of striving after goals - that is, growth - that brings happiness."

Recommended for: Those with an interest in happiness may find some new things to think about here, but many readers will likely be turned off by Rubin's surface-level conclusions and charmed life.

Final thoughts: Rubin's happiness is never really tested - not that I wish misfortune on her - I think I'm more curious as to why someone decided to publish a book about a well-adjusted woman with a home, family, job, health, etc. pursuing happiness. I get that all of these things don't mean you're automatically happy with your life, but shoot. You should be. I wanted more depth - why should I care that a seemingly happy person craved more happiness? Why wasn't she as happy as most people in her shoes would be?


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Friday, June 23, 2017

Friday Night Links 39

I'm one grad school class down, with 11 left to go. Class readings, discussions, and papers don't leave a lot of time for reading (or writing) for pleasure, which is a bit ironic, but at least homework assignments are interesting. Here are a few resources that I found were pretty legit substitutes for my typical reading:

I definitely had Library Anxiety my freshman year of college.

This is a lengthy survey, but I enjoyed reading the descriptions of different types of library users.

I learned a lot about teen services by reading about what goes into creating it from scratch.

Who knew? Full-time school librarians boost student achievement. (Librarians, that's who.)

Advocacy matters. All librarians have a responsibility to tell the story of what libraries do.

Especially in times of cuts to funding almost everywhere, what libraries do is important to our most vulnerable citizens.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Things My Students Say 7

For the last day of school, my final installment of this series:

Student: Ms. Kaiser, pretend you are an 8th grade girl
Me: ...okay...
Student: What would you want your crush to say to you?
Me: You're a cool girl! I think you're neat! I like you more than Pokemon!
Student: ...Have you ever been in a serious relationship?

Teacher: How would you explain majority rules in simple terms? ...Think of when your family is deciding where to eat.
Student: Mom rules and she says there's frijoles in the fridge.

Student A: Ms. K, do you have a kid?
Me: No.
Student B: She has two!
Me: ....Also no.

At the zoo: Ms. K, the penguins have your eyes!

While tapping on my glasses, which were on my face: "Ms. K, you have glasses?"

Referring to my engagement ring: "Ms. K, that looks like a dinosaur egg. When will your egg hatch?"

Student: Hey, Rachel!
Me: Excuse me?
Student: You're not my teacher anymore. Now we're just friends, so I can call you Rachel.


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Reading the Rainbow: Book Recommendations to Celebrate Pride

Welcome to June, which brings all the fun festivals: BBQ, Blues, Puerto Rico, Pride...it's a great month for eating, music, and celebrating love and equality. I've expanded my LGBTQ+ reading more and more each year, and it's done nothing but reaffirm my belief in reading authors who aren't (on the surface) like me. Of course, we're all human and deep down, basically the same. We all want to belong somewhere. We all crave validation of our humanity. We all want to be entertained by a great read.

Here's an article with a great starting point for multiple genres of books. I'm excited for the fairy tale retellings! And if you're interested, a few others from my reading list here, here, here, and here. Remember, love wins!

10 Mind-Blowing Bi & Lesbian Books

Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Opportunity Equation

The Opportunity Equation: How Citizen Teachers Are Combating the Achievement Gap in America's SchoolsThe Opportunity Equation: How Citizen Teachers Are Combating the Achievement Gap in America's Schools by Eric Schwarz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Eric Schwarz, founder of Citizen Schools, shares his vision for a world where every day citizens work with schools and teachers to ensure all students have access to the social networks and influence of a diverse array of adults.

First thoughts: I'm reading this book with just a bit of bias - both positive and negative. I obviously support the mission of Citizen Schools, but I've also seen areas where the organization has room for improvement. It was strange reading this book as a Teaching Fellow, specifically a TF2 (2nd-year) who is leaving the organization in about one week. Then again, it also seemed fitting to read this at the end of my Citizen Schools career.

Favorite quotes:

"Citizen power, properly mobilized, can change the world." (I've seen it!)

"Children who know a lot about their families tend to do better when they face challenges." (This is the concept of the inter-generational self, or the idea that we are all connected to and a part of our families, and we are more powerful because of it.)

"Did we really need another database, another evaluation system, another decision-making matrix, I wondered?" (HA - yes, I've had this thought so often the past two years.)

"The problem comes when the externally focused optimist and the internally focused skeptics take their natural proclivities too far." (Balance, people.)

"We need to step into schools with minimal judgment and as much curiosity and energy as we can muster. That's how to change the opportunity equation."

Recommended for: educators, parents, citizens, those with money or time, politicians.

Final thoughts: I never knew the "unofficial" flower of Citizen Schools is the sunflower - okay, there's a lot of things about CS I didn't know before reading this book. Mostly I didn't know how the organization was run/currently runs in Boston, where it started. Boston and Chicago are so very different, so it's interesting to see how adaptable the Boston school system seems to be to the "Extended Learning Time" model, compared with the struggles CPS has to get any learning time. We've got a long way to go before we reach equality in education in this country.


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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Wonder Woman (Go See It Now)

Do I even need to write a review of this movie? Just go see it, people. The numbers don't lie.

Wonder Woman was, yes, a brilliant female-led film. But it was also a quintessential summer blockbuster. It did so many things so right while also staying true to the superhero genre in all the best ways. I laughed. I cried. I left the theater feeling so empowered I felt like I could take on the world.

This tweet sums it up best for me:

YES. That's exactly it, right there. This is why we need more movies (and TV shows and books and award winners and presidents...) featuring people who aren't white men. Everyone deserves to feel like they can save the world. Everyone deserves to be the hero. There's room for all of us on the big screen.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Chosen

The ChosenThe Chosen by Chaim Potok
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Part baseball, part religion, part exploration of the weight of parental expectations.

First thoughts: This book took me a long time to read because it took me a long time to get into it and understand what the point is. After finishing, I'm still not sure how impactful the book is to me personally. I wanted to know what was going to happen, but didn't know where it was going most of the time.

Favorite quotes:
"Anything that brought the world together he called a blessing."

"...as you grow older you will discover that the most important things that will happen to you will often come as a result of silly things."

Librarian thoughts: The one point of access I had to the story was in thinking about censorship of books, especially for youth. How important is it to steer kids towards/away from certain books? Who decides what is appropriate for kids to read: teachers, parents, the kids themselves?

Recommended for: This book was probably not written for me, so take this review with a grain of salt. I think baseball fans will get into it quicker than I did. Jewish people will understand most of it better than I did. Anyone who is knowledgeable about religions, Judaism in the 1940s and 50s, or Freud will "get" the conflict of the story in a more complete way than I ever could.

Final thoughts: Ehh, it felt anticlimactic. Like, that's it? After all the build-up of the father-son relationships? Not sure how to feel, or if I feel anything at all. The book shows how doctrine and semantics can divide a group from the inside, yet all I could think as a non-Jewish person/outsider looking in was: how are you two that different? Underlines the importance of focusing on similarities with those we view as distinct from us - odds are others don't see your differences as clearly as you do.


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Saturday, May 27, 2017

What the F

What the F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and OurselvesWhat the F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves by Benjamin K. Bergen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What the F?! ...aka, what a perfect title for a book. Catchy and fun.

First thoughts: This book is super fun, especially to a sometimes sailor mouth (though most don't expect it). I always love having some background on my words, and knowing where the 4-letter ones came from (and why we call them that) only makes them more interesting. There were a few technical parts that I skimmed, but for the most part I was super into reading about how language itself forms and changes.

Profane thoughts: One of the best parts of reading a book about swearing is getting to swear a lot (at least in your head, though I also took extra liberty with reading passages out loud to Jesus). Another good part - finding out how profanity follows specific patterns, even across languages, yet also does its own thing. Did you know your brain reacts differently when it hears swears versus non-swears? We process cursing differently than we do non-profane language. So cool.

Censored thoughts: While I'm keeping this review profanity-free, I also don't condone censorship. Of course, you have to know where you're at and who your audience is, but on the whole, eliminating words doesn't help anything. Listening to others, trying not to offend, and using words that others prefer (specifically in the case of slurs - arguable the most offensive profane words) - these things help us connect with others in ways that censorship doesn't.

Recommended for: Parents and teachers. Wordies, linguists, bibliophiles. Potty mouths and prudes.

Final thoughts: Profanity isn't good or bad. It is what we make it...swear if you wanna, don't if you don't. :)


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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Ciao WOW!

Tonight was my final WOW! event with Citizen Schools. (For the record, WOW! doesn't stand for anything, it's just the reaction we want our audience to have when they see all the cool stuff our kids have learned and made over the course of 10 weekly classes...although my students did suggest Watch Our Work, and I think that's a worthy option.) In two years, I helped plan four WOW!s, which showcased a total of 36 Apprenticeships (7 of which I personally led). I also managed a group of 30+ volunteers each semester as the Citizen Teacher Lead. Most importantly, 100+ students had the opportunity to learn 21st-century skills from the volunteers - bankers, lawyers, engineers, accountants, computer programmers, motivational speakers, pilots, consultants, data analysts - and share what they learned to friends, teachers, and their families.

As stressful as planning an event like tonight can be, I'm always so excited to see how the kids light up when they have an audience to teach or perform for. In two years I've seen kids publish their own 'zine, build solar cars, raise over 800 dollars for an animal shelter, perform spoken word poetry, investigate a crime scene, present their personal vision boards, invent new ice cream flavors, teach juggling, and share SO MANY lessons learned about aviation, entrepreneurship, coding, networking...the list goes on.

Tonight was truly the cherry on top of a wonderful sundae, and thankfully I have a few more weeks for goodbyes and end of year celebrations!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Day 50

Woooooaaaah we're halfway there, wooaaah....that's all I've got to share. :)

I've written a page a day for 50 straight days, mostly. Once I completely forgot (around day 41) and made up for it with two pages the next day. Once I didn't forget, but I willfully didn't write (around day 43 - last week was rough, guys) and again, made up for it with two pages the next day.

All around, I'd say a pretty successful challenge. If I can do 50 days, I can do 50 more - and now that I've added grad school to my life juggle and things have settled down from the first few weeks of class, writing is finding its space in my daily routine again (instead of me wondering how I'm going to fit it in between practicing cataloging standards and writing discussion posts about library marketing).

What will I do when I reach 100 days? Unsure. I won't force myself to write full pages, but I do find that if I let my mind wander for a few lines I get out all the random schtuff in my brain and I can get on to the real schtuff. And there's something to be said about having a consistent routine. Stay tuned.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Underground Railroad

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It was hard to do anything library or book related without seeing/hearing about this Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner this past fall/winter/spring. Co-workers recommended it, celebrities praised it on social media, and I was intrigued by a story of a real Underground Railroad - historical fiction with the emphasis on fiction? Sign me up.

First thoughts: Taking the above into account, I was not as excited with The Underground Railroad as I expected to be. It didn't grab me like I wanted it to, and I kept waiting to read more about the railroad itself.

Favorite quote: "A plantation was a plantation; one might think one's misfortunes distinct, but the true horror lay in their universality."

Recommended for: adventurous readers, casual readers, anyone who likes to stay current on reading trends.

Final thoughts: While I eventually got more into the story, the story itself stayed mostly on the surface. By the end of the book we still don't know Cora, and definitely don't know Mabel, Royal, or Cesar. And there's definitely not enough detail about the railroad - Who made it? How does it work? What's the schedule? That's all I wanted to read about. Sadly, I think The Underground Railroad suffers from not setting itself apart enough from other slave narratives - and it had a real chance to do so with the "real" railroad angle. If I knew more about the story before reading I might have enjoyed it more, but I went in expecting both a great literary tale and an exciting, new, different story.


Sunday, May 14, 2017

Thoughts on blogging & privacy

This blogger's post on introversion and connection is resonating with me today, but my online silence has less to do with being introverted and more with needing time to figure out what privacy means to me in a period of intense life change. Even coming here to share that fact feels exposing.

I have a few fun things I want to share in the coming weeks and months (so many thoughts on wedding planning and going back to school), but right now I'd rather spend my energies writing offline until I'm sure of what I want to say.

And I haven't forgotten about Photography Month:

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Bad Feminist

Bad FeministBad Feminist by Roxane Gay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I listened to these essays by Roxane Gay over the course of a week, during my walk to and from work. I think that had I been reading a printed copy, I might have skimmed/skipped a few essays that didn't resonate as much with my personal story, but I enjoyed listening to them.

First thoughts: Roxane Gay is so smart. It's intimidating at times, but also refreshing. I'm glad she doesn't dumb things down, but instead makes her reader/listener get on her level. In the same way she's also unapologetically honest, and I had to get on her level to hear her truths.

Essay thoughts: As I mentioned, some essays were more relatable (to me) than others. I've read The Hunger Games, I'm familiar with various pop culture references, and I too am usually the quiet studious one in school. In others, while I didn't always connect with the content (I haven't read 50 Shades of Grey), I still found her commentary interesting.

Recommended for: students, young adults who are figuring out their place in the world, good feminists, hesitant feminists, and people who still cringe at the word feminist.

Final thoughts: There was no universe in which I wasn't going to eventually read or discuss this book - while referencing a lot of current pop culture, Bad Feminist itself has become an item of pop culture. It was only a matter of time, and I'm glad that time was sooner rather than later.


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Saturday, May 6, 2017

Bedwetter, Please: Two Books By & About Comedians

Besides being former SNL cast members from New England and becoming popular by leading comedic television shows, Amy Poehler and Sarah Silverman don't have a lot in common. Their types of humor are vastly different, and their audiences vary wildly as well. Their memoirs reflect their personal styles, and their respective audiobooks, read by themselves, show how important those styles are to how their audiences interact with and relate to them. If you're thinking about reading either Yes Please or The Bedwetter, I'd recommend the audiobook, as both of these women know how to perform, even when they can't see their audiences.

Yes PleaseYes Please by Amy Poehler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First thoughts: I LOVE Poehler reading her own book and bringing in other performers (Seth Meyers, her parents) to read various chapters. It really gives credibility to each individual voice. Poehler's audiobook asides are great extra bits that play out through the entire book.

Favorite quotes:

"You do it because the doing of it is the thing."

"Great people do things before they are ready."

"I tried to tell the truth and be funny."

"Good for her. Not for me." (I've found myself repeating this ever since hearing it, anytime I start to get jealous of what another person(woman) has or is doing.)

"Figure out what you want. Say it out loud. Then shut up."

"Ambivalence is key to success."

"If you can surf your life rather than plant your feet, you will be happier."

Content thoughts: Poehler's memoir does talk about her journey to where she is today, and she has chapters on all the important events in her comedic formation, but this is also a self-help/motivation book (as the above quotes demonstrate). Poehler has plenty to say about her own upbringing and coming of age as a woman writer/actor/director/etc, but she also has a few choice words applicable to any person in the process of figuring out who they are and what they want. I appreciated this relatability, and I think this is what makes the memoir work (for me). Memoirs aren't my favorite genre, mostly because I don't care enough about one person's life to read an entire book on it. When the memoir is elevated to empowerment manual, then I'm on board.

Audiobook thoughts: I'm so glad I chose to listen to Yes Please. Poehler is a performer through and through. Her last chapter is a recording of a live reading in a theater, audience laughter and all.

Recommended for: women, aspiring writers and performers, funny people, fans of SNL and Parks and Recreation, those who need a little pep and pick up.

Final thoughts: Yes, please to Yes Please.


The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and PeeThe Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee by Sarah Silverman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

First thoughts: Silverman sure does make a career out of being gross/crude. I'm part jealous, part meh. While it was interesting to hear about her childhood and "backstory," I couldn't always relate to how she got to where she is today (which made it harder to care).

Favorite quote: "Make it a treat." - how to approach life's luxuries so you don't burn yourself out on them.

Recommended for: Anyone who is already a fan would probably enjoy hearing Silverman's origin story, and I think certain young women would benefit from hearing about a public figure's struggles with self esteem, especially around the topic of wetting the bed.

Final thoughts: The Bedwetter doesn't age particularly well - Silverman talks about her role in the Obama campaign and the state of America in 2009, and some passages got a little cringe-y. While there was no way she could foresee the mess we'd be in eight years later, there were parts that were hard to listen to. Also, I don't think I'll ever totally be on board with her voice, which doesn't help an audiobook's case. As a commute companion, though, I could've done worse.


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Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Running Man

The Running ManThe Running Man by Richard Bachman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was terrifying to read in December of 2016, and it's even more horrifying to review in early 2017. In the dystopian future of The Running Man, "the poor are seen more by the government as worrisome rodents than actual human beings." ...Hmmm...sound familiar? This book, written by Stephen King under a pseudonym, isn't your typical Stephen King thriller, but its premise is chilling and more relevant today than ever before.

First thoughts: The Hunger Games meets Blade Runner meets Fahrenheit 451 meets 1984. I was surprised at how familiar Ben Richards' world is. I didn't think a book written in the early 1980s would resonate so well/so eerily today.

Favorite quote: "Protest did not work. Violence did not work."

Reality thoughts: The more I read, the more breaks I needed to take. Things got too real: asthma and cancer on the rise because of pollution, the government hiding information, denying environmental hazards, treating the poor and underemployed like criminals, profiting off violence and fear....it got to be too much.

Recommended for: Americans. Specifically ones who thought a racist clown would make their country "great again," those who are starting to see the cracks in the facade, and others who still believe the circus act.

Final thoughts: What was a scary book pre-inauguration is now our reality. The last few chapters had me gasping in shock, not unlike how I read the news these days.


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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Quiet Advantages: Two Books on Introverts

It's a surprise to exactly no one that I'm a natural introvert who can "behave" like an extrovert when necessary (ie, I prefer to recharge on my own and I work best in one-on-one or small group situations, but I don't shy away from addressing an entire room when my job calls for it). Because I love reading about myself and I've researched human behavior before, this wasn't news to me when I borrowed The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World and Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking from the library. I didn't read these books to decide whether or not I was an introvert, but to affirm my strengths and learn new ways to take advantage of the things I do best. One of these books did that better than the other, but both validated my quirks and reactions to the world around me.

(Note for those who aren't familiar with temperament definitions: introverts, in general, process things inwardly and are more easily stimulated by sights/sounds/smells, whereas extroverts are energized by outside stimulation and feel drained when they are alone or under-stimulated. This is a very basic explanation and I recommend reading this article to clarify where you fall on the temperament spectrum.)

The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert WorldThe Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World by Marti Olsen Laney
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I started the audiobook version while waiting for the physical copy to come to my library, and when I finally read the text I was surprised at how much I remembered from listening. This isn't a complex book or intense guide on the advantages of introverts, but rather a feel-good (sometimes a little too "feel-good") collection of the ways introverts are just fine how they are.

First thoughts: I don't want to be referred to as an "innie" ever again in my life. Ew. Besides this off-putting terminology, I was underwhelmed with the author's choices. She treats introverts like fragile flowers who need constant pep talks and mental breaks.

Repetitive information: I'm guessing most people who come across this book already know they are introverts, so the checklists and surveys were unnecessary, and the author's insistence that introverts are okay, perfectly fine humans was a little over the top...we're reserved and introspective, not weak/sickly/fragile as the author hinted at.

Useful information: What I appreciated most was the author's suggestion to use body scans to check temperament and energy levels in the moment. I don't always check in with myself during the day, which can lead to wondering why I'm extra tired later on.

Recommended for: Honestly, don't read this if you're just learning about introversion/extroversion - check it out if you know yourself, but want a few extra tips for being introverted at work/in relationships/as a parent.

Final thoughts: More fluff than substance, but a good reminder to take care of myself when I'm out and about.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Based in research and with no shortage of scientific knowledge and character profiles, this book was more informational and interesting than a diluted self-help guide.

First thoughts: Quiet treats its readers like grown adults who want to learn more about the science behind temperaments. It's written for anyone interested in the topic, not just introverts.

Useful information:

  • We introverts naturally "pause to process surprising or negative feedback" which allows us to learn from it. We reflect on what goes wrong in a situation and avoid it in the future, whereas (typically) extroverts move past negative feedback to quickly to learn from it.
  • Introvert Powers: concentration, persistence, insight, sensitivity.
  • A lot goes on under the surface of an introvert's calm demeanor - we may appear to be "zoning out," but that's because we're spending our energy working on complex problems or processing the world around us, not on facial arrangement.

Favorite quotes:

"Sensitive types think in an unusually complex fashion."

"The trick is not to amass all the different kinds of available power, but to use well the kind you've been granted."

Recommended for: Introverts who'd like extra help figuring out their strengths, extroverts who are confused about why their introverted friends/loved ones/coworkers need alone time, parents, teachers, and other caring adults who want to learn the best ways to allow their children/students to thrive.

Final thoughts: I've always been a lean on my strengths versus work on my weaknesses type of person, and this book helped me narrow in on the strengths I want to highlight as I transition out of teacher life and back into student life. I know what positives I bring to the workplace and to my own studies, but now I know how best to show others my strengths and skills so my full potential is realized.


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A Different Kind of Poetry

I hope no one needed me to remind them about Poetry Month this year - I decided not to write/post a poem each day here in lieu of something a little bit different. Instead, I'm participating in The 100 Day Project. It's a project that's usually art-driven, and meant to be shared (via Instagram, using #the100dayproject plus whatever other personal hashtag creators come up with), but I'm keeping mine mostly private. It won't end when Poetry Month does (or Photography Month), so it's not strictly poetic (or photographic).

If I had to make an original hashtag for my 100 days, it would be #100days100pages...or #100pages100changes. I started with everyone else (on April 4) and will continue to write one page in my journal each day for 100 days, ending mid-July. Those are my only rules. So far I've filled pages with all words, some words and lots of doodles, decorated quotes from role models, and bits and pieces from whatever day I'm documenting. It's not as artsy as some projects, and it's less focused on a beautiful product than others, but I knew when I started that I didn't want a lot of guidelines and I did want a detailed account of April-July 2017, a period of time that promises to be filled with so many changes.

Cheers to today, Day 15, and to 85 more days of writing, changing, and creating.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Get Some Headspace

Get Some Headspace: How Mindfulness Can Change Your Life in Ten Minutes a DayGet Some Headspace: How Mindfulness Can Change Your Life in Ten Minutes a Day by Andy Puddicombe
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My week on Spring Break was all about headspace - I checked my work email exactly twice, and thought about it minimally beyond that. Instead of waking up already anxious about my days, I lingered in early morning dreams, took my time enjoying my coffee, and listened to audiobook on top of audiobook while cleaning, cooking, and rearranging furniture. It was amazing, but real life isn't like Spring Break. We need to fight for our headspace, and sometimes getting ten minutes of it in a day is a struggle. In Get Some Headspace, Andy Puddicombe walks his reader (or in this case, listener) through a few different mindful practices between stories of his journey to a mindful life.

First thoughts: I thought an audiobook version of a mindfulness manual would work well, considering you have to be pretty mindful to listen. I think I got better at concentrating as the book went on, but it was a struggle for me to stop fidgeting/multitasking/reading other things (yes, I know) and just listen.

Mindful thoughts: I need meditation time. I am bad at carving out meditation time. Or mindful time. Or any time that's not eating/sleeping/phone scrolling...it's a continuous process. Listening made me mindful of how distracted I am. Puddicombe's advice in this situation? Think less about my worries and more about other people's happiness - if I'm finding a few mindful moments with the knowledge that it'll be better for those around me, I'll have an easier time separating myself and quieting my mind.

Favorite (paraphrased) key thoughts:

Meditation shines a light on how you think - and it's not always pretty.
Your mind is like the sky: it's always blue, even when there are clouds. Our minds remain constant, even when things get cloudy. Meditation isn't about clearing the skies, or making blue skies out of gray, but allowing the mind to be in its natural state.

Recommended for: any and all - and if an entire audiobook/book on mindfulness isn't your thing, check out Puddicombe's Headspace app for ten-minute guided meditations.

Final thoughts: While listening got easier, my brain will always work better with visual cues, especially for chapter breaks. Puddicombe's voice is calming, and his down-to-earth explanations are accessible and relatable.


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Thursday, April 13, 2017

A Weekend in DC

Things that make a great vacation:

  • Options for activities, including no activity at all
  • A knowledgeable host
  • Great food
  • Naps
Escaping from Chicago for four days was exactly what I needed, and choosing Washington, DC as our travel destination was a great choice - I had never been as an adult, Jesus hadn't been in several years, and we had great hosts to both house us and take us to a bunch of fun spots around town. We ate at Ted's Bulletin (homemade Pop-Tarts!), Sudhouse (patio seating & games!), and Rakuya (happy hour sushi!). We drank at The Board Room (board games and beer!) and Drafthouse (free comedy!). We went to a Japanese festival and the Cherry Blossom Parade. We visited four museums and three parks, saw a drum circle, and rode the Metro like locals. We even fit in a short snooze on the National Mall. It was a solid Spring Break getaway.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Seeing

SeeingSeeing by José Saramago
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This sort-of sequel to Saramago's earlier work, Blindness, takes things to a more political level, but there's still plenty of philosophy and a few favorite characters make comebacks.

First thoughts: I get that the run on sentences are part of it all, but man do they make this a s-l-o-w read. It's mental gymnastics sometimes, and early on I missed the familiarity of Blindness. The dry humor and my curiosity carried me through until it picked up/I got used to the style again.

Favorite quotes:

"...not only does the universe have its own laws, all of them indifferent to the contradictory dreams and desires of humanity..., but everything seems to indicate that it uses these law for aims and objectives that transcend and always will transcend our understanding..."

"Languages are conservative, they always carry their archives with them and hate having to be updated."

"...truths need to be repeated many times so that they don't, poor things, lapse into oblivion."

Conversations thoughts: There were a lot of pretend/practiced conversations in this book that never actually came to fruition - characters would act out what they would say/would have said in certain situations for pages before admitting the reason why they couldn't/didn't say those words. I don't have anything enlightening to add except that this happened on enough occasions for me to notice, and it's nice to know that I'm not the only one who does this at length.

Recommended for: thinkers and ponderers, fans of long translations, poetic phrases that last several pages, or complex philosophical hypotheticals, anyone who wants to know what happens when a population refuses to participate in democracy.

Final thoughts: I'm glad I didn't wait too long after Blindness to read this companion piece, and I enjoyed the mental workout it gave me. The words/phrases/chapter-long sentences truly are a work of art.


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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Watching, Listening, Reading

The sky was blue for about 20 minutes yesterday, but otherwise it's been a long rainy week here in Chicago. We're so close to Spring Break - each gray morning is another reminder of how much we all need some time away. Summoning the motivation to do anything other than curl up on the couch after work is getting more and more difficult. Luckily, I've found enjoyment and escape in a few different forms of entertainment:

Prison Break: IT'S BACK, PEOPLE. (Obvious spoilers to anyone who never watched the original show.) Yes, eight years after the finale, Prison Break 2.0 dares to ask the question we were all wondering: What if Michael didn't die? This nine episode "sequel" premiered yesterday and with close to 4 million viewers, it looks like fans are on board with whatever intense/complex/far-fetched storyline writers and producers have up their sleeves. I certainly am - seeing Lincoln, Dr. Tancredi, C-Note, T-Bag, Sucre, and Michael back on my TV screen is nostalgia I'm down for.

S-Town: What a strange and beautiful podcast. I went into it thinking I'd hear about an unsolved mystery, or at the very least the shady workings of a small town in Alabama, and I ended with a greater understanding of my humanity. S-Town (Shit Town) tells the story of a creative, tortured, and one-of-a-kind genius, with forays into the lives of other characters and descriptions of places and situations I'm completely unfamiliar with. Since all seven episodes are available, this podcast listens more like an audiobook than a series with weekly installments, but pace yourselves nonetheless.

Yes Please: Speaking of audiobooks, I had a hunch that listening to Amy Poehler read her own book would be worth not having something physical to hold/page through/look back on to find perfectly witty nuggets of advice and I wasn't wrong. Poehler reads like she means it - because she does. No droning or monotone voices here, just a lifelong writer/improviser bringing her own words to life before my very ears.

All These Wonders: If this collection of "True Stories About the Unknown" from the Moth is as enchanting as the cover and Neil Gaiman's foreword, I've got some wonderful reading ahead of me. Gaiman writes, "Honesty matters. Vulnerability matters. Being open about who you were at a moment in time when you were in a difficult or an impossible place matters more than anything." I mean, c'mon.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The City of Your Final Destination

City of Your Final DestinationCity of Your Final Destination by Peter Cameron
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A story about leaving home to find yourself and change the direction of your life. TCOYFD has plenty of mystery, believable characters, and intricate relationship dynamics.

First thoughts: The actual reading of this book was enjoyable - so many poetic turns and characters I could root for and understand. It reminds me of The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and, in a strange way, the movie Vicky Cristina Barcelona - stories of travel, lives changed by art, love triangles.

Favorite quotes (there are a lot):

"Champagne is never a mistake." -Caroline, p75

"Why does traveling, coming far, excite us? Has it to do with what we leave behind or with what we encounter?" -Caroline, p77

"I will behave like a normal person for as long as I possibly can." -Omar, p79

"The thing is not to let being scared stop you from doing the right thing, or from getting the things you want. That is what makes us cowards." -Adam, p105

"There is a way that people displace their attention to one another onto the landscape that, when done simultaneously, is sometimes an effective and satisfying substitute for communication." -p106

"You must live your life as if you are the hero of a novel. You must always do something interesting, always earn your space on the page. It is very hard to live one's life like that. Novels are so deceitful in that way: they leave so much out. The years of tedium, of happiness perhaps, but tedious happiness. Or tedious unhappiness." -Adam, p179

"And so we sat there, saying nothing, and our chance was lost." -Adam, p244

"I'm twenty-eight years old and I don't know what I want to do. I don't know what I can do. I don't know anything." -Omar, p266-267 (This quote is perhaps the reason why the book resonated so much with me!)

Recommended for: travelers, homebodies, wanderers who may or may not be lost, lovers, fighters, poets, dreamers, and doers.

Final thoughts: Filled with beautiful imagery and phrases, this book was romantic, sad, and sweet. I loved finding out the "final destination" of all the characters.


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Monday, March 27, 2017

Chicago History Musuem

Why have I never been here before?! The Chicago History Museum is interactive, educational, and a fun time for this transplant and her native fiance.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie

The Twelve Tribes of HattieThe Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a book. A beautiful, sad, joyous, expansive tale of a mother and her children, told over the course of all of their lives.

First thoughts: I loved the format - a chapter for each of Hattie's children (tribes). We get to see glimpses of Hattie at various stages of motherhood, and we delve into a defining moment of each child's life. Using the titles of each chapter (years and the children's names) we piece together a family portrait spanning several generations. The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is like a collection of connected short stories, each one a unique literary treat.

Favorite quotes:

"It seemed to him that every time he made one choice in his life, he said no to another." -Lawrence, p78

"It seemed to him that he could never get a proper grip on any of the beauty in this world." -August, p87

"They didn't understand that all the love she had was taken up with feeding them and clothing them and preparing them to meet the world. The world would not love them; the world would not be kind." - Hattie, p236

Recommended for: Everyone should read Ayana Mathis's first novel (and wait eagerly for her next one!).

Final thoughts: Reading The Twelve Tribes of Hattie was the kind of reading experience all readers want - easy without being boring, entertaining without being farcical, and meaningful without being preachy.


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Monday, March 20, 2017

Something Just Like This

It's light outside when I get home, all I need is a light jacket, and I didn't wake up feeling exhausted. Spring, you're okay. (I know the weather might not agree with the calendar all the time, but we're getting to mild/warm temps little by little.)

Need a pick me up, or not feeling the same way I am about Spring? (Maybe allergies are ruining your life - they're a clear drawback to the season.) Give this song a listen and imagine yourself lounging at a sidewalk cafe, strolling through a park, or driving along some beautiful scenery.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Some Light Wedding Reading

Did anyone think I would approach marriage and wedding planning  with anything other than intense research? Besides a few blogs (that I've been following for longer than the four months I've been engaged), I also searched out and was gifted (thanks MOH!) a few books that grounded me in the wedding planning process and reminded me that I'm neither the first nor last bride to need some guidance.

A Practical Wedding

A Practical Wedding: Creative Ideas for Planning a Beautiful, Affordable, and Meaningful CelebrationA Practical Wedding: Creative Ideas for Planning a Beautiful, Affordable, and Meaningful Celebration by Meg Keene
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having been a fan of the blog that inspired this book for a few years now (they're more of a wedding & lifestyle & fun things blog than strictly a wedding blog), I was excited to read what Meg Keene had to say about the practical approach to wedding planning. I wasn't disappointed - it was a quick read and this book is definitely one I can see myself referencing throughout the planning process (if the post-it bookmarks are to be trusted, that is).

First & Final Thoughts: Filled with lots of good information, yes, but more importantly this book is filled with reminders that it's going to all work out, a wedding will happen, and the only thing that really truly matters is I'm getting married to my person.

The Perfect Day

One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American WeddingOne Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding by Rebecca Mead
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The subtitle says it all: "The Selling of the American Wedding." From the moment Jesus and I announced our engagement, there was always someone ready to sell us something. Any advertising I see online is now for wedding bands, honeymoons, dresses, photography, or any number of "things" one needs to get married. They all have the same message - buy these things to set your wedding apart, buy these things to make sure you have a traditional wedding, buy these things to show your guests how much you care about them.

First Thoughts: This book was both depressing (the wedding industry is scary, y'all) and empowering (THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A TRADITIONAL BRIDE).

Favorite quotes:

"All traditions are invented." -p58

"It is, in many ways, harder to invent yourself than to have your course mapped out for you." -p73

"What if every wedding was a cherished victory won?" -p230 (I feel like mine will be, not only because of the life partner I'm winning, but because our marriage wouldn't have been possible even 50 years ago. It's a personal and cultural victory.

Final thoughts: I got the feeling Mead herself was one of the "bad brides" that the wedding industry fears because she doesn't buy into it, and I'm with her, to a point. I do want my wedding to feel both unique and classy, to reflect mine and Jesus's tastes while also being familiar enough as a wedding to not make people uncomfortable. Knowing what goes on behind the scenes helps to navigate the needs/wants/unneccessaries of wedding planning, and to put the whole thing in context.


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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

March Madness

The real madness of this month:

Monday, March 13, 2017

What Color is Your Parachute (2017 Edition)

What Color Is Your Parachute? 2017: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-ChangersWhat Color Is Your Parachute? 2017: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers by Richard N. Bolles
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With plenty of visuals, online resources, worksheets, and an organized layout, Bolles guides job hunters and career changers through the process of researching employers, building resumes, and interviewing. The backbone of his manual, "The Flower," provides a framework for creating an accurate picture of who the reader is as a potential employee.

First thoughts: I was excited, energized, and overwhelmed. Bolles writes conversationally, which helped make reading this easy on the brain, but the subject matter is both technical and emotional, so I found myself skimming chapters that didn't necessarily apply to my situation or putting off reading chapters that seemed to understand me all too well.

Favorite quotes:

"So it is, that in any situation you find yourself, no matter how overwhelmed you may feel, no matter how much you may feel you're at the mercy of huge forces that are beyond your control, some part of it is within your control." -p47

"You are a person, not a job." -p115

"The more you see your own gifts clearly, the more you must pay attention to the gifts that others have." -p239

Best tip: YOU are the given, the common denominator in your job search. So focus on yourself and what you offer. Think of yourself as a resource to any potential employer. --> This is something quickly forgotten in the drudgery of job hunting, and something I, personally, want to be more intentional about in future job hunts.

Recommended for: job hunters and career changers, employers and employees, college grads and retirees.

Final thoughts: My brother read this book and got a job almost immediately afterwards. The book motivated him, gave him new ideas about how to job search, and made the entire process more of a puzzle to solve than an impossible challenge. I, on the other hand, read the book over the course of 4 months, in fits and starts as I was feeling up to it. I wanted to read it completely (doing each of the worksheets), but in the end I had to pause on those and just keep reading, or I would have been stuck on certain sections for too long. I'd advise any would-be readers to know themselves and their reading style, then use the book as a tool in whatever way best suits you. Not feeling a chapter? Skip it. Bolles agrees - Parachute is a reference, not a required read.

Editor's Note: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


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